L1602 – Handy seals

My last three posts described our two-day stay in the port of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the two shore tours that I made from there. After our early evening sailaway from Buenos Aires, we sailed overnight down the River Plate, and rather later than planned the following morning we dropped anchor in the bay of Punta Del Este, Uruguay. The ship was unable to dock in this resort, sometimes referred to as “the Monaco of South America”, so instead a combination of the ship’s tenders, and launches provided by the resort would be used to transfer passengers between the ship and the harbour.

The resort consists of a sweeping bay with a peninsula at its eastern end, which marks the boundary between the River Plate and the Atlantic Ocean. With its pristine beaches and fashionable shops & hotels, Punta Del Este is a very popular holiday resort.

The shore tour I had selected in this resort was a little different – a trip out into the Atlantic Ocean on a catamaran, sailing very close to Isla de Lobos. This small island is around 8 kilometres south-east of Punta Del Este and is a nature reserve, boasting the largest colony of sea lions in the western hemisphere. There are around 15,000 sea lions, plus around 250,000 South American fur seals. The island also has the tallest lighthouse in South America, and third highest in the world, at 59 meters above sea level. It was first built in 1858 and then rebuilt in 1906.

Our late arrival at our anchor point, combined with the time taken to set up the landing stages alongside the ship, launch the ship’s tenders, await arrival of immigration authorities by launch and then get clearance meant we all had a long wait in the ship’s show lounge before being called for departure.

I and my fellow participants on the island tour were allocated to the first tender to go ashore. There was a steady swell running, which kept the tender moving around and bumping into the landing stage, so after running the gauntlet of boarding the tender, we were glad when at last it was full and we could set off for the shore.


On reaching the harbour, we were guided for the short walk around it to the waiting catamaran:


I managed to secure a good seat up on the upper deck, and our guide gave us a very good and at times amusing talk about what we would see on our voyage:


Leaving the shelter of the harbour, we rounded the end of the peninsula and headed out towards the island. We were heading into the swell, so it was quite lumpy, and every so often we optimistically looked ahead to see how close the island had become:


As we eventually neared the island, we passed close to the boiler of a wrecked ship, now a convenient perch for the local seabirds:


At last we were close to the island itself, with great views not only of the lighthouse, but also of hundreds and hundreds of sea lions and seals in the sea and hauled out on the shore:


We slowly meandered up and down the island coast, giving plenty of chances to both admire and photograph (and smell!) the abundant wildlife:


After around half an hour, the catamaran turned away from the island, and headed back towards Punta Del Este. This time we were sailing with the swell, which made for a smoother crossing.


Back in the harbour,  I saw and photographed the local fishing boats, and the fish being prepared and sold right on the quay. A family of sea lions have taken up residence in the harbour, enjoying free meals from the discarded parts of the fish:


Rather than head back to the ship, I decided to stay ashore for a while and explore the resort on foot. Following the route suggested by the guide on the catamaran, I walked out of the harbour and along the bay until I reached “Light and Power Punta Del Este”. This sculpture was carved from a single 5 meter block of Italian marble by Pablo Atchugarry to mark the centenary of the city:


I then cut across the peninsula to the Atlantic coast, where on Bravo beach lies “La Mano” – The Hand. This sculpture of a hand emerging from the sand of the beach was created in 1982 by the Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal, and is now so popular it has become a symbol for the resort, and one of Uruguay’s most recognisable landmarks. I would have loved to have taken a photograph of just the fingers emerging from the sand, but of course it was constantly engulfed by the self-centred young people of today, where every countless photograph must feature themselves or each other in the foreground pulling endless inane poses, with the object of interest relegated to a mere backdrop to their pictures.


Growing impatient of even catching a moment with no one climbing or sitting on the fingers I moved on, walking back though the centre of the peninsula. Here some more birds and some street art caught my eye, including for some reason the statue “El Rapto de Europa” – The Abduction of Europa – by Óscar Alvariño:


Eventually I reached the cathedral and the lighthouse,  towards the end of the peninsula. I found the simple design of the inside of the cathedral very attractive:


I then walked down to the bay side of the peninsula and completed my circular walk along the coast road. Here there were more sea birds, and the tiny ‘beach’ was made up of thousands of shells:


Hot, tired and thirsty I then took one of the launches providing the shuttle service back to our ship:


It had been a very good tour – a chance to see up close a wildlife spectacle – and hugely more successful than tours I had done in the past by small boat to try and see dolphins and whales. With plenty of seals in hand on the tour, and the hand seen on my walk, the day confirmed the high regard I have gained for the country of Uruguay on this cruise.



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